Feeling Romantic? It’s Good for You.
Sometimes Cupid needs a little help. Well, okay, in some cases a lot.
That’s why Dr. Sonjia Kenja, a certified sexologist with the University of Miami Health System, preaches the gospel of romance — and not just for Valentine’s Day. Sexual desire, she says, is essential to good health.
“Our sexual function is part of our health,” she says. “When we have unfulfilled libido, we are not at our best selves.”
Naturally Kenya wants us all to be our best selves, and she has made it her mission to dispel myths about sexual desire while also teaching singles and couples how to boost libido in all the right ways.
But first things first. Before we get to the “good” stuff, Kenya, author of the book “Sex in South Beach,” wants to change one of our more troublesome habits right away: We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.
“Everyone has different levels of libido and even that varies [depending on circumstances and medications],” she says. “The important thing is to recognize and know our own level and accept that a partner’s may be different than yours.”
One more thing: Though she admits it’s a generalization, the fact is that women do differ from men when it comes to sexual desire, mostly because of biological factors but also socialization. On average, men masturbate more, seek sex more often and also think about it more. “Women, on the other hand, tend to want richer experiences and more quality and they also tend to be more hormonally connected with a partner,” she adds.
That’s because women release more oxytocin than men during an orgasm. Known as the cuddle hormone, oxytocin serves as a bonding agent in a relationship, prompting women to want more emotional and physical connection. So, yes, there’s actually a biological explanation for the expectation of a phone call the next morning.
Most women, Kenya adds, don’t want sex on the first date. But they do want what she calls “the promise of love,” the feeling of safety at a time when they’re most vulnerable.
“For women, trust is very, very important,” Kenya says. “They need intimacy, they need to feel connected.”
She counts off four T’s that typically precede sexual desire for women. “Time, talk, trust, touch. You need those before you can get to the fifth T, turned on.”
Of course, creating the spark is just the beginning. Fanning the flame, keeping it hot in an established relationship is just as important — and that’s something Americans are not particularly good at. Just as there are accelerators, there are also quite a few things that can douse even a robust fire.
“Stress is the number one killer of relationships in the U.S.,” Kenya says. “Stress is the biggest turn-off.”
Kenya, however, prefers to talk about ways you can boost your sexual desire (and your partner’s) instead of discussing the things that can kill it. In fact, she is so committed to this goal that she offers classes to improve bedroom skills and make talking about sex easier, or at least less awkward. In one class, “How to Plan A Great Date,” she outlines a step-by-step method to avoid common dating mistakes while also giving tips for fun dates that fit within a budget. In another class, she guides couples through sensory exercises, focusing on pleasure points and reigniting sexual intimacy. (Check out her website, www.drsonjia.com)
Here are her tips to keep the sexual fires burning long after the Valentine chocolate has been eaten and the flowers have wilted:
- Love yourself first. “If you don’t love yourself, who’s going to love you?” she asks. She’s a proponent of “loving yourself in all ways,” and this includes masturbation.
- Take care of your health, your home, your spirituality and your social life. “When you’re feeling good about all those, you’re a winner,” Kenya says. “You feel good about yourself. People fall in love with those who are motivated, who are accomplished, who feel good about themselves.”
What’s more, keep yourself in good physical shape. For men, a high body mass index and bigger waist make it more likely for them to will suffer from low desire and erectile dysfunction.
- Be purposeful in your relationship. It won’t run on auto-pilot. “You have to plan,” she insists. “It takes work.” She’s a big fan of date nights, but also of what she calls “planned spontaneity.”
- Talk about sex. When a partner’s sex drive drops into low gear or is mismatched with his beloved, communication is essential. “Though it’s often harder to talk about sex than to actually have sex, it’s still important to communicate what you want and hear what your partner wants.”
- Check for potential “decelerators” if your sexual desire has changed. In addition to stress, medications, children, lack of sleep, mental health issues, and a rocky relationship outside the bedroom can affect libido. So can having too much to drink. Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other sexual issues.
So what’s the right amount? One drink for women and two for men. A glass of red will not increase your libido, but it likely will help you relax.
- Try something different — and it doesn’t necessarily have to be big. “Little steps are fine,” she says. “They work.” For instance, Kenya recommends giving your partner a massage with essential oils. Not only is it a sensual experience that demonstrates interest and thoughtfulness but certain fragrances also have been shown to stimulate arousal.
“There are so many benefits to having a healthy sexual drive,” Kenya says. “It’s good for your immune system, it helps with sleep, and it makes you happier.”
In Their Words